Cyanide spill could have long term impact

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 13 May 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:1294
  1. Carl Kovac
  1. Budapest

    The spill of water laden with cyanide from a Romanian gold mine in January (26 February, p 536) could have a chronic health impact, according to a recent joint report by the United Nations environment programme and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

    The spill, on 30 January, occurred in the Baia Mare region of northwest Romania and flowed into the shared river systems of Hungary, Romania, and Yugoslavia. It happened in an area already contaminated by heavy metals due to a long history of mining, the reportsaid.

    “The Baia Mare region and the river systems in the region are being classified as toxic, at least medium to high toxic,” said Fritz Schlingemann of the UN environment programme. He noted that the toxicity was probably from a combination of the recent spill and the “historical pollution of a number of incidents” in the area.

    Schlingemann said that, although it had produced a “minimal” immediate health risk, the pollution “might have a longer term impact on human health and environmental health.”

    The report was compiled by 16 experts from seven countries who visited the region about four weeks after the spill, from a waste reservoir at a mine jointly owned by Australian and Romanian firms.

    They found that villages close to the accident site were spared the worst effects of the spill as they could be provided with alternative water sources. “Consequently, immediate human health risk seems to be minimal from this spill alone, but chronic health impacts due to long term pollution by heavy metals are possible,” the report said.

    Hungarian officials are concerned that heavy metals, which have accumulated in the Tisza River, may have been carried into agricultural areas by severe flooding in the eastern part of the country in recent months and may enter the food chain.

    Embedded Image

    Romanian workers drag trees on a lake in Baia Borsa to prevent spread of heavy metals.

    (Credit: AP)

    View Abstract

    Sign in

    Log in through your institution

    Free trial

    Register for a free trial to to receive unlimited access to all content on for 14 days.
    Sign up for a free trial